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    Rose McDonald

    There was to me something magical about the farm, a quality that held a special meaning apart from the rest of the world. It was clear colors and fresh smells, the orderly rows of plants, the sleek coats of the livestock and the daylong music of live and growing things.
    But this day something was different. The air crackled with electricity. There was a sharp acrid smell to the wind coming in the window. Even the sounds of the animals were discordant. When I looked in the mirror to brush my hair it was standing out from my head like porcupine quills. Walking to the dresser felt like trying to run through mud.
    In the kitchen the women were talking in low voices, a worried frown their shared expression.
    Gramma, the air feels funny.
    There's a storm coming. You and Jerry stay close to the house. If you hear the bell you come inside as quick as you can.
    The bell was a huge brass thing mounted at the top of a wooden post right outside the kitchen door. It was only rung in emergencies. I had never heard it.
    Gramma and the other women went back to making breakfast for the more than twenty people who normally were at the table. Scrambled eggs, applesauce, a pile of fresh melons, a rasher of bacon, slices of ham, buckwheat cakes, peaches and fried potatoes. There was always a lot of food.
    I don't know when I began calling the Carlsons’ Gramma and Grampa but it was after the Fourth of July.
    The women weren't superstitious, by any means, but sometimes the natural world gives us warnings and it's wise to heed them. These women did; they were, like so many farm people, closer to the earth than most and often felt the subtle shifts in the world around them before any overt signs could be seen.
    Jerry and I were looking out the windows in the breakfast room; we watched the sky to the west. If there was going to be a storm, it would come from that direction. There was a sudden rush of cool air from the kitchen and the bell started clanging. In an instant the blue sky turned a terrible green, then as black as night.
    A sudden shrieking wind came howling out of the west with nothing between it and the small farming town but hundreds of thousands of acres of dead-flat farmland. It picked up fine dry dust in the plains, carried it aloft; when it crossed the mighty Mississippi it sucked up enough moisture to insure a crop-leveling storm.
    It was a good thing the cattle had been kept in the barn that morning; the storm blew up so quickly they'd never have gotten them inside in time. Women and children had raced through the houses closing windows then running for the storm cellars. Margaret and Gramma Carlson, grabbed Jerry and me and raced for the storm cellar. Grampa and Marty waited for the few stragglers they could see trying to get to the house before the full fury of the storm struck.
    When the wind hit, it slammed down on the farm with a scream like nothing I had ever heard. The noise was terrifying.
    The old farmhouse seemed to bow down under the onslaught, but righted itself and held fast. Then came the thunder and lightning; my ears were ringing and the smell of ozone was heavy. With every blast the house shook, when the power went out no one moved or spoke. There was no weeping, just a sudden profound calm as each person in that fieldstone cellar made their own personal peace with their Creator.
    It was over almost as quickly as it had begun. Cautiously the storm doors were opened; we ventured out and found a world that bore no resemblance to the one we had so recently fled.
    First the families counted noses, then the men turned their attention to the houses, the livestock and the farm buildings. Some of the houses were reduced to piles of rubble, three were simply gone. The chicken coop had been toppled and dazed hens wandered around the yard. The barns were damaged but not destroyed, all would need roofing repairs. The cattle were uninjured but it would be days before they produced milk. From the upstairs windows Jerry and I could see great wide swaths of raw earth where the crops had been ripped from the soil. Our large community vegetable garden was blasted and beaten to the ground.
    I needed to get to my little patch of earth and ran as fast as I could get my legs to carry me. Everyone who worked the Carlsons' farm owned a plot of land, even the children, even me. Mine was a short distance from the main house but I couldn't find it. Where it should have been lay a large section of barn roof leaning up against the rail fence. I crawled under it.
    My tomatoes had been knocked to the ground and scattered. The green beans and peppers were a smashed mess lying in a perfectly straight row. Most of the carrots were ripe and had heaved up out of the soil; they were easy to gather into a small pile.
    And then I heard the bell. And shouting.
    The bull had gotten loose. He ran from one end of the livestock pen to another until he found a break in the fencing. The power was out and the electric fence was useless. The hands scattered, clambering up on anything that would keep them above the enraged and terrified animal.
    There were only two people not running from the bull, Grampa Carlson, who walked steadily toward the bull, carrying a rifle,
    And Jerry, who was lying where he fell.
    A bellow of rage, a cry of fear, and the sharp crack of the rifle.
    I couldn't move, couldn't look away.
    Grampa picked up the small limp body and carried my friend to the house.
    The world turned grey. The music stopped. The magic ended.
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